Voter turnout has declined over the past few decades in many western countries. In America it has been below 60% in every presidential election since 1968. In Britain turnout reached 65% in the 2010 general election, down from 84% in 1950. But there are no such worries in Australia, where Tony Abbott was sworn in as prime minister on September 18th. According to Australia’s electoral commission, turnout in the election on September 7th was 91%. This was no one-off: nine out of ten Australian voters have trudged to the polls (or voted by post) in every federal election since 1925. The reason Australians vote so faithfully is simple: they have to, because failing to vote is illegal. Where else is democracy an obligation rather than a right? Plenty of countries have flirted with compulsory voting. IDEA, an international organisation that promotes democracy, lists 38 countries that have mandatory voting in place or have done so in the past. They include America: the state of Georgia made voting compulsory in its 1777 constitution, subject to a fine, unless the person could provide a “reasonable excuse” (see Article 12). In many countries voting is compulsory in theory, but seldom or never enforced. Voting is obligatory in most of Latin America, for instance. But in Mexico, which is among the countries where abstaining is illegal, turnout in last year’s presidential election was only 63%.
Political action committees spent more money on state-level candidates in just 23 states during the 2012 election cycle than they did on federal candidates in all 50 states, according to a new analysis. The analysis from the Sunlight Foundation shows state-level PACs dished out $1.4 billion to candidates running for governor, attorney general, state legislative and other non-federal offices in those states. All told, PACs spent $1.2 billion on federal candidates. State PACs do not have to report their spending to the Federal Election Commission. Instead, they report to campaign finance organizations in the states in which they spend money, all of which have different rules for reporting, disclosure and spending.
The Campaign Legal Center has alerted its readers to a “flood” of challenges to campaign finance laws, and its message is that the reform advocates must remain at their battle stations. It is certainly true that interests hostile to any campaign finance regulation are hard at work; they might well believe that in this time, with this Supreme Court, their moment has come and no time should be wasted. But not all of these challenges are fairly lumped together and described as one indiscriminate assault against any and all reasonable regulation. A few raise questions that even those favoring reasonable limits on campaign finance should take—and address—seriously. The case of Worley v. Fla. Sec’y of State, 717 F.3d 1238 (11th Cir. 2013), is one such case, a challenge to an application of a state requirement that individuals supporting or opposing a ballot initiative must register and report through a political action committee (PAC). The Eleventh Circuit rejected the claim, which is now before the Supreme Court on a petition for certiorari. The four petitioners in Worley argue that PAC requirements, if a burden on corporations in the manner described by the Supreme Court in Citizens United, must fall even more heavily and just as permissibly on individuals banded together in limited, inexpensive “grassroots” political enterprises.
The college students began arriving a little before lunch at Calvary Baptist Church, far more than usual for a local election. The poll workers knew immediately: the Machine was here. The school year at the University of Alabama has barely gotten started, and already the campus has found itself in a charged self-examination on issues of politics, power and race, with the exposure of tenacious segregation among fraternities and sororities drawing national attention. But the turmoil began some weeks earlier. It raised the specter of the Machine, a secret society representing a league of select and almost exclusively white fraternities and sororities, which has been around for a century or more. Once a breeding ground for state political leaders, the Machine (it has long been known by that nickname) today maintains a solid hold on student government through an effective, and critics say coercive, brand of old-fashioned organization politics. But the Machine’s apparent involvement in an August school board election, a rare appearance in municipal politics, has prompted a lawsuit, accusations of voter fraud and an outcry that in many ways primed the campus for the larger storm over inclusion and tradition that is now taking place.
A coalition of voting-rights groups trying to get lawmakers to testify about the 2012 redistricting process asked a skeptical Supreme Court on Monday to rule that legislators should not be shielded from speaking in court. Those challenging new district maps under the anti-gerrymandering “Fair Districts” state constitutional amendments are appealing a 1st District Court of Appeal ruling that prevents the legislators who drew the districts from having to testify about “objective” facts about the redistricting process. The Supreme Court has no definitive timeline for ruling on the question. A lower court had initially ruled that the lawmakers should have to testify, though the trial court didn’t order lawmakers to testify about “subjective” issues, like why they made certain decisions.
A federal lawsuit challenging the constitutionality of a state law that has given rise to the Democratic and Republican slating system under which Marion Superior judges are elected will go forward. Chief Judge Richard Young of the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Indiana last week denied a motion to dismiss brought by state officials and interests named in a suit brought by Common Cause and the American Civil Liberties Union of Indiana. Common Cause, a nonpartisan group whose mission is to promote open, honest government and voting rights, seeks an injunction against enforcement of Indiana Code 33-33-49-13. The suit says that law, which sets forth the process for electing judges in the Marion Superior Courts, is “unique in Indiana, and perhaps in the nation.”
Wayne County elections workers are expected to begin their eighth day recounting ballots from disputed Detroit elections this morning, and little information is being made available on how much longer the recount will take — or how much it is costing. County officials said Monday that about 80% of the ballots have been counted. Paperwork then has to be completed after the count. Delphine Oden, Wayne County’s director of elections, declined to say Monday when she expected the recount to end. The recount was approved by the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, which is looking into allegations of fraud detailed in a petition filed by former mayoral candidate Tom Barrow. Barrow’s allegations include, among other things, that the number of applications for absentee ballots was lower than the number of absentee votes cast, and that similar handwriting appears on several ballots cast for former Detroit Medical Center CEO Mike Duggan, who will face Wayne County Sheriff Benny Napoleon in November’s general election. Carol Larkin, chair of the Wayne County Board of Canvassers, said the overall cost for the recount appears headed closer to $100,000 than the $500,000 price tag Barrow has suggested. “We won’t know the total until it’s done,” she said. “It is going to get costly, though.”
The second-day story from New York City’s primaries last week could have been the exceptional performance of the city’s unique system of small-donor public financing. By providing a six-dollar public match for every dollar raised in contributions of $175 or less, the system enabled the little-known Scott Stringer to compete with and defeat Eliot Spitzer’s family fortune in the race for Comptroller. On the Republican side, it helped mayoral nominee Joe Lhota, who received almost half his total spending in public money, to overcome another self-financed millionaire. The top three Democratic candidates for mayor finished in reverse order of the amount of private money they had raised, and as Alec MacGillis noted here, public financing allowed the eventual nominee, Bill de Blasio, to resist the policy preferences of big donors, such as opposition to paid sick leave. Dozens of city council and other races featured three or more candidates with enough money to compete. But instead of celebrating a system that finally emerged from the shadows of Michael Bloomberg’s personal spending to show its value, we’ve had handwringing about the rise of “outside money,” or spending by groups other than the candidates and parties, in New York City politics. Jim Dwyer in The New York Times argued that outside spending was “reshaping” city politics, focusing on three independent committees: one that promoted “Anybody But [Christine] Quinn,” based on the City Council speaker’s refusal to block horse carriages from Central Park; a tiny committee formed to support Lhota, with contributions solely from David and Julia Koch; and Jobs for New York, the biggest outside spender, a front for the real estate industry.
The race to become New York City’s next mayor narrowed Monday as the runner-up in last week’s Democratic primary ended his campaign and endorsed Bill de Blasio, the liberal public advocate who has cast himself as the anti-Michael Bloomberg. But Bill Thompson, who captured just over 26% of the vote in the Sept. 10 primary, did not go out with a whimper as he announced his withdrawal at a news conference outside City Hall. Thompson, facing his second failed attempt at the mayor’s office, lashed out at the Board of Elections for taking days to count all the primary ballots, saying it made it impossible to campaign for what might have been a Thompson-De Blasio runoff on Oct. 1. “In the greatest city in the world, in the greatest democracy on Earth, we ought to be able to count all the votes,” said Thompson, who ran against Bloomberg in 2009. Tens of thousands of votes — including absentee ballots and paper ballots cast by voters who encountered malfunctioning voting machines — have not been counted and are not expected to be tallied until next week.
Editorials: Thompson Bows Out – Calls NYC Board of Elections a “Disgrace,” Needs Replacement with Professionals | New York Times
William Thompson Jr. made a gracious exit from the race for mayor of New York on Monday, throwing his support to Bill de Blasio, who probably got slightly more than 40 percent of the vote in last Tuesday’s Democratic primary, which he needed to avoid a runoff with Mr. Thompson. We say probably because the New York City Board of Elections hasn’t finished counting the votes. For the last week, Mr. Thompson has been in the awkward position of hanging around to see whether Mr. de Blasio’s unofficial 40.3 percent holds up. Mr. Thompson, who got 26.2 percent of the vote, saw that his odds were very long, and got on with his life. In leaving the race, Mr. Thompson called the board’s failure to deliver official results nearly a week after the vote a “disgrace.” He’s right, though its incompetence is hardly a surprise.
Texas: Rights groups seeking millions in legal fees over redistricting battle | San Antonio Express-News
Attorney General Greg Abbott’s defense of a now-defunct 2011 redistricting plan could leave the state on the hook for a roughly $6 million legal tab to pay civil rights groups that sued to block the maps. That’s the ballpark total for reimbursement requests from plaintiffs waging a years-long legal war with Abbott over redistricting maps passed by the Republican-led Legislature in 2011. Federal judges have deemed those maps discriminatory to minority voters, and they were never used. A three-judge panel in San Antonio drew interim maps for the 2012 election for the Texas House and Senate and the U.S. Congress. Led by Abbott and Gov. Rick Perry, state Republicans decided months ago to abandon the 2011 maps and replace them permanently with the political boundaries drawn by the judges. The Legislature approved the plans during a special session this summer.
Businessman and political aspirant Clive Palmer has demanded a new election in the federal seat of Fairfax on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. His lead over the LNP’s Ted O’Brien in Fairfax has narrowed to only 209 votes, with about 88 per cent of ballot papers counted. Mr Palmer, who founded the Palmer United Party (PUP), says the election is rigged and the Australian Electoral Commission (AEC) is a national disgrace. He says 768 pre-poll votes from one booth went missing from the voting centre at Coolum Beach, and later turned up at Buderim. On Monday afternoon, the AEC released a statement saying the sorting error makes no difference to the count overall, and it remains confident in the integrity of its processes. However, the Federal Court says the AEC’s media release on Monday suggested there was a reserved judgment. The court says today Justice Dowsett indicated he would reserve the question of costs in respect of Monday’s hearing, but otherwise Mr Palmer’s application was denied.
Campaigning for parliamentary and local elections is officially underway in Cameroon, amid controversy over the alleged fabrication and buying of fake voter cards ahead of the September 30 poll. Loudspeakers placed at strategic locations and in populous neighborhoods of Cameroon’s capital blare campaign messages by 35 political parties running in council and parliamentary elections this month. This message by one opposition party, the National Union for Democracy and Progress, promises to unite the country and keep it out of conflict. Meanwhile, Denis Kemlemo, a candidate with the main opposition Social Democratic Front, tells VOA he will focus on reviving the economy. “Our economy is failing due to the adoption of unrealistic budgets, absence of true social justice and snail pace development. It is for this reason that we are begging for your support during these upcoming parliamentary and council elections to help bring the change that we desperately need,” he said. But the campaigns have been overshadowed by a simmering controversy over voter registration.
Rwanda: A Strange Electoral System For A Unique Country – Rwanda Votes For Parliament | International Business Times
A national parliamentary election began Monday in the East African country of Rwanda, and the ruling Rwandan Patriotic Front, or RPF, is expected to maintain control over the national government. This is no ordinary election. Rwanda’s electoral process is unique, as is the East African country of 12 million, an international aid darling whose violent past has given way to dazzling economic growth and development, but whose repressive tendencies are frequently criticized by domestic dissidents and global human rights groups. Rwanda’s parliament is bicameral. The upper house — the Senate, with 26 seats — is indirectly elected by various political groups and institutions, while the lower house — the Chamber of Deputies, with 80 seats — has 53 members elected by the people, with 27 indirectly elected by special interest groups. Of those 27 seats, 24 are reserved for women, two are for young people and one must be filled by a disabled person.
With four days to go, Germany’s federal election is going down to the wire. Latest polls put Dr Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) three points short of re-election with its unpopular coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP). The opposition alternative – the Greens, Social Democrats (SPD) and Left Party – are also three points short of a majority. The election will be decided, not by personalities or policies, but by a modified voting system. So how do Germans vote? Every citizen over 18 has two votes: the first for a direct constituency candidate and the second for a party. This second vote decides the allocation of Bundestag party seats, with MPs drawn by parties from state lists. The two-vote system – combining constituency and list systems – is a post-war compromise between the Allies but it is the second vote, the Zweitstimme that counts. The CDU has dubbed it the “Merkel vote”, the guarantee that its leader stays chancellor. Their FDP coalition partners claim the same.